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Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Out In A Flash

“Rain was a story God telling but the man in umbrella kept interrupting.

The Lake did not take to traveling but the Hydro-electric Company made it to work

I love River Seine but it is n’t saying much.

A river comes with two banks. You can take either if you are clue less. River has been asking the age old question: Is the sea coming to me or am I returning a favor?”

By one who isn’t particular about doing anything today

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Scientists tell us that the way things work at quantum level are unlike what we experience in our visible world. In macroscopic world “classical” physics of Newton et al rules the roost.

Fundamental particles of the quantum realm behave in seemingly impossible ways: they can exist in two places at once, or disappear and reappear somewhere else instantly. It is so weird that ‘spooky science’ fits the label under which they operate.

Quantum processes may occur not quite so far from our ordinary world as we once thought. Quite the opposite: they might be at work behind some very familiar processes, from the photosynthesis that powers plants – and ultimately feeds us all – to the familiar sight of birds on their seasonal migrations. Quantum physics might even play a role in our sense of smell.

A well-trained human nose can distinguish between thousands of different smells. But how this information is carried in the shape of the smelly molecule is a puzzle. Many molecules that are almost identical in shape, but jigger with one by swapping around an atom or two shall have very different smells. Vanillin smells of vanilla, but eugenol, which is very similar in shape, smells of cloves. Some molecules that are a mirror image of each other – just like your right and left hand – also have different smells. But equally, some very differently shaped molecules can smell almost exactly the same. Luca Turin, a chemist at the BSRC Alexander Fleming institute in Greece observes that there are inconsistencies.

He argues that the molecule’s shape alone isn’t enough to determine its smell. He says that it’s the quantum properties of the chemical bonds in the molecule that provides the crucial information.

According to Turin’s quantum theory of olfaction, when a smelly molecule enters the nose and binds to a receptor, it allows a process called quantum tunnelling to happen in the receptor.

In quantum tunnelling, an electron can pass through a material to jump from point A to point B in a way that seems to bypass the intervening space. For the same reason in photosynthesis of plants how electrons achieve efficiency in photosynthesis owes to the same tunneling. As with the bird’s quantum compass, the crucial factor is resonance. A particular bond in the smelly molecule, Turin says, can resonate with the right energy to help an electron on one side of the receptor molecule leap to the other side. The electron can only make this leap through the so-called quantum tunnel if the bond is vibrating with just the right energy.

When the electron leaps to the other site on the receptor, it could trigger a chain reaction that ends up sending signals to the brain that the receptor has come into contact with that particular molecule. This, Turin says, is an essential part of what gives a molecule its smell, and the process is fundamentally quantum.

The strongest evidence for the theory is Turin’s discovery that two molecules with extremely different shapes can smell the same if they contain bonds with similar energies.

Turin predicted that boranes – relatively rare compounds that are hard to come by – smelled very like sulphur, or rotten eggs. He’d never smelt a borane before, so the prediction was quite a gamble.

He was right. Turin says, “Borane chemistry is vastly different – in fact there’s zero relation – to sulphur chemistry. So the only thing those two have in common is a vibrational frequency. They are the only two things out there in nature that smell of sulphur.”

While that prediction was a great success for the theory, it’s not ultimate proof.

 

Whether or not nature has evolved to make use of quantum phenomena to help organisms make fuel from light, tell north from south, or distinguish vanilla from clove, the strange properties of the atomic world can still tell us a lot about the finer workings of living cells.

(To be concluded)

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What is in a name?

Faeces, excrement, dung or shit is what it is. It makes our world and there is no point in naming or shaming it but accept it as fundamentally important to life. Scientists have created a museum of poop at the Isle of Wight Zoo in the UK. It allows zoo-goers to get up close and personal with 20 individually encapsulated stools. The poos come from various animals: there are samples from the zoo’s lions, as well as from meerkats, skunks – there’s even human baby poo.

The museum’s curator Nigel George says even a layperson can tell a lot about an animal by examining a sample of its faeces.

Crow poo, for instance, generally contains quite a lot of bones or beetle wing cases in it. “The carnivore poos tend to be a lot smellier than the herbivore ones,” he adds. Cow poo is 80% water and comes out in large, sloppy dollops, whereas kangaroo poo is generally more like little, firm pellets.

One herring gull bird sample had remnants of plastic in it, showing how there is now a human impact on animal poo.

With an average poo containing about 75% water, the team have learnt by trial and error how to encapsulate the turds to “make them less smelly and safe for the public to look at”.

Whale poop makes the world’s nutrients go round.

While most marine animals eat close to the water’s surface and poo in the deeper waters, whales do the opposite. It’s this, Joe Roman says, that makes all the difference.

“When whales come up to the surface, right before their last dive, they do a big dump,” says Roman, a biologist at the University of Vermont, US.

This faecal plume, as it’s known, is rich in nutrients, depositing vast quantities of nitrogen, iron and phosphorus at the water’s surface.

“So they can fertilise the ocean,” says Roman. “[They] bring the nutrients back to the surface.”

The effect is known as the whale pump – and it’s something that Roman has spent the past 10 years studying.

Once the nutrients are at the water’s surface, fish such as salmon can consume them. These fish are then in turn eaten by seabirds who transport the nutrients from the sea to their breeding colonies onshore, where they are subsequently eaten by land animals such as bears. In this sense, Roman says “whales play a part in bringing [the world’s nutrients] from the bottom of the ecosystem to land”.

Until about 60 million years ago, there were no whales. It was around that time that one group of land mammals began dipping their toes into rivers, eventually becoming fully aquatic and colonising the ocean as whales and dolphins. The whales started feeding on fish and crustaceans and so evolved the ability to break down chitin – a component of the hard shell or exoskeleton that surrounds some shellfish.

“Most mammals can’t break this down. It’s meant that the microbial community of whales is completely different from what we realised,” he says.

The makeup of whale faeces depends a lot on the individual whale responsible, and its diet, says Roman. If the whale feeds on krill, its poo tends to be in the form of red or pink logs about the size of a fist. But if they’re feeding on fish, it’s diffuse and a dark green, about the size of a research vessel, he says.

“It’s an immediate injection of nutrients. Both have the same impact but in different ways.”

Let us look at dung beetles. “… (They) are living on the last bit of nutrients that the original eater couldn’t get out of the food,” says Marcus Byrne of Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa. “It’s really the knife edge.”

Despite having a brain the size of a grain of rice, dung beetles have some pretty impressive talents, says Byrne, They mould the poo they harvest into spherical balls and then roll it away from the competition.

He says the way they procreate and fight over mates is remarkably developed given their small size. Males advertise their fitness through massive horns on their heads, he says. “They’re tiny animals but they fight for females like they’re antelope, deer or caribou.”

The small males of the species have also evolved to have larger testes than the bigger beetles.

Apart from being sexual stallions and impressive poo-ball rollers, what really sets them apart is their navigation skills. “They look at the sky and use signals to orientate and navigate themselves,” says Byrne. While we humans are map navigators, the beetles can perceive things we can’t see such as polarised light, colour gradient and intensity gradient.

Byrne showed that one species even uses the Milky Way as a celestial compass to orientate itself, allowing the beetles to shift their poo balls by night.

“It’s romantic and impressive. There’s this stupid little animal that’s basically looking at the edge of our galaxy,” he says.

Poo has now come into the field of archaeology as well.

Hannibal is generally considered one of the greatest military commanders in history. He was the leader of the North African Carthaginian army during a war with Rome, which lasted from 218 to 201BC. Where Hannibal crossed the Alps with his army and 15,000 horses (and several war elephants) – has remained an enigma. Some have suggested this crossing from modern-day France into Italy was at a pass called the Col de Traversette, 3000m above sea level. “There was a lot of circumstantial evidence that this was the route but no one has ever come up with something that’s scientific evidence in that it can be tested,” says Chris Allen, an environmental microbiologist at Queen’s University, Belfast, UK.

The mystery has been debated for the past two millennia by historians, statesmen, academics and even by Napoleon. It might soon be solved thanks to a whole heap of ancient horse droppings.

“If you’ve got 15,000 to 20,000 horses in the one place for two days, you know you’re going to have some sort of residue,” says Allen.

Partnering with archaeologists, Allen and his team found a hole the size of a football pitch not far from the Col de Traversette. Using genetic analysis and environmental chemistry, the team managed to unearth a mass deposition of animal faeces.

They took soil samples at 5cm intervals to a depth of 70cm, which took them through soil horizons that would have formed 2,200 years ago during Hannibal’s life.

“This churned up layer shows something very physical and distinct happened about 2,180 years ago,” he says. “It suddenly becomes very physically disturbed.” The disturbed layer was rich in ancient horse dung, which the team could carbon date to about 200BC – very close to 218BC, which is when Hannibal is thought to have crossed the Alps. The soil sample was also really high in Clostridia bacteria, a microbe commonly found in the stools of horses.

“Twelve percent of soil samples had this Clostridia and its bang on the dates that it’s expected. There is a six-fold increase at the correct date,” says Allen, equating the findings to a ‘genetic time capsule’. These observations, along with a number of others, create a “fairly convincing story that 2,200 years ago a very large number of mammals went through this place and they left something behind”.

All things must come to an end. Pass the toilet roll, please.

(Ack: BBC/earth-Katie Silver of July 12, 2016)

Benny

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There is so much common between plants and humans we might think we move about in parallel worlds. We exhale carbon dioxide and they return oxygen to us. How they manage the world in essentials has a parallel narrative in us. We draw our sustenance from the soil which the plant also does; we conserve so do plants an example of which are those autumnal livery they wear. We thrive in our ability create support in times of necessity and establish contacts with others in terms of what they can add to us in terms of security and exchange ideas; the plants also form such preferential  association with animals as well as  other plants.

We are biased towards visual and auditory signals than chemical imaging we fail to appreciate the plant life in its working. The plants communicate with one another. Take spotted knapweed for instance. Its roots secrete a chemical called catechin that can kill other plants. This triggers them to produce free radicals which sweeps from roots upwards causing cell death. In another case when lima bean pants are attacked by spider mites they call out with distress signals that bring on carnivorous mites to eat up the spider mites. The lima plants in the neighborhood also receive the signal to do the same thing.

Our preferences for persons do not fall within what we would call rational behavior. Love at first sight? (Even before a woman has spoken a word man gets chemical messages: phermeron compounds set off to create signals in the brain.) VNO is located in the lower part of your nose much lower than olfactory cells and are tuned to receive such signals. What does the message say?’ I feel excited!’ Naturally you fall in love. Whereas plants do not err in this they send messages which are lures so they can procreate. Along with blossom colors and shapes, scents attract the bees, wasps flies,butterflies, beetles,moths birds,bats-even mice and lizards if necessary, so 90% of the flowering plants to reproduce. Pollinators are welcome. For every dollar a Quebec apple farmer invests in honey bees to service an orchard crop value goes up by (by 2004 conversion rates) $185. North Dakota sunflower farmers get more and better seeds. From fruits to nuts a big chunk of our diet relies on the interactions between pollinators and flowers.

(ack:Joel Achenbach.NGC-Feb,’o4)

benny

 

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Take the case of two patients. Both are stung by bees. One develops severe allergic reaction and the other develops no aftereffects other than the pain that accompanies of being stung. It does not happen by random but because one has an immune system to be impervious to the bees. Similarly we see in two plants of the same species. One is attacked by insects, one not. On an individual plant, some leaves get eaten, some not. This doesn’t happen at random, but is caused by the fungi that live within the leaves and roots of the plant.

Survival strategy of different species shows how the wellbeing of one is dependent on many factors severally spread about and not in the concerned species itself. Thus it makes sense whatever fine-tuning species do to maximize their own Natural selection.

Plants being stationary being rooted to the soil must rely on the soil itself and not in themselves to fight depredation. It is in these area fungi serve as their bodyguard.

Every plant has fungi and bacteria that live on its surface (called epiphytes) and within its tissues (called endophytes).

If the stem is still attached to its roots then the number of species would easily double. The roots contain lots of endophytes and a separate group of fungi, called mycorrhizas. These fungi grow into plant roots and form a symbiotic relationship in which the fungus donates nutrients (principally phosphate and nitrate) to the plant, in return for a supply of carbon.

So both endophytes and mycorrhizas can be thought of as plant bodyguards, where both partners benefit from the association. The fungi gain refuge and resources, while the plant gains a natural pest protection system. The challenge is to exploit this natural system in agriculture and horticulture. However, these sorts of fungi are rare in crop plants thanks to years of fungicides, fertilisers and plant breeding, and modern crops have far fewer natural fungal partners than their counterparts in the wild.

We need consider ‘ecological specificity’ in nature operates. Under which plants seem to select the fungi that will provide them with maximum benefit. If we’re to use this in agriculture, the challenge is to find the “right” combinations of fungi that will provide crops with protection against pests and diseases. For example, there is a separate group of fungi, called entomopathogens, that kill insects. These fungi can also live within plant tissues, meaning that if an insect eats an infected leaf, it ingests a killer fungus.

 

The fungal internet

The chemicals produced by all of these fungi travel throughout the plant. Some fungi in the root can change the host plant’s chemistry to keep marauding insects largely at bay, which may well be one reason why cultivating a rich soil full of useful microbes can lead to reduced pest problems above ground.

Other mycorrhiza (root) fungi can change the chemical makeup of a plant’s leaves, and we have found that these chemicals can attract parasitoid insects to give another level of defence – they can reduce insect growth by making leaves less edible, while simultaneously helping the plant to call parasitic insects that attack the herbivores.

Perhaps even more exciting is how fungi network and link many plants together. The mushrooms you see above ground are simply the fruiting bodies of a larger organism below the surface, composed of thread-like material called mycelium.

Each mycelial thread (a hypha) has a structure like a drain pipe. When plants are attacked by insects, they produce alarm chemicals that are transported to neighbouring plants through this pipe network. Unattacked plants respond to these alarm signals by producing chemicals to ward off an impending attack.

This may be why “no-dig” gardening is thought by many to produce healthier crops than commercial agriculture, where this “fungal network” is continuously disrupted by ploughing.

Plants and fungi do not exist in isolation, but instead form a cooperative in the war against insect pests. Even better is that the fungi are perfectly edible – if you had a salad recently, you’ll have plenty of endophytes within your stomach right now.

(Ack: How Plants Rely on Fungal Bodyguards- The Conversation of Jan. 28, 2016-Alan Gange/Professor of Microbiology, Royal Holloway)

Benny

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Owls are nocturnal birds for their far vision, particularly in low light, is exceptionally good. So it makes sense if they hunt by night. Nature has fitted them out to make best use of what in their anatomy has given an edge over many other species. Logic is in their finding what suited their purpose best.  If the birds make meal of rodents and what could be carriers of plagues they do create a certain balance it its environment. Their service is however lost on them. Logic did not prepare them see it as such.

Let me cite a feature of Nature: nature doesn’t put all eggs in one basket.

Nature therefore works with multiple agencies, of which we can only assume carries a purpose. It must endow some good to some species that may enlarge upon opportunities that blow in their way. We say some cosmic impacted on the earth 65 million years ago wiped out dinosaurs. It allowed mammals that were precariously holding on to take the centre stage. We are recipients of an opportunity arising from such a disaster. We are not far from wrong if we say we fulfill a purpose to which we are equipped. But if we cause massive scale of extinctions thereby logic on which we relied on is neither here nor there.

We failed because our foresight and hindsight are not perfectly matched. We imagined certain results beforehand but on hindsight we are at a loss to explain where we went wrong. Logic did not create this split but be that as it may, we have ushered in an age called anthropocene.

Logic did  not prepare us for such a conclusion as sequences of steps in mathematics move with inexorable logic to its conclusion. We may therefore say imagination is logic plus .

In the analogy of owl we saw how the species render some palpable service to other species on which they have neither knowledge nor control over. Yet they serve Nature partly because in pursuing their own place under the sun they are spreading Nature’s goodness intuitively. But man with rational mind and as with the plasticity inherent in the brain has the faculty of imagination.

What is imagination? Imagination is  to think as Nature does think.

Nature thinks with 360 degree vision. Man who thinks about his own conveniences and works in order to achieve is like an owl that follows logic for a purpose. Propagation, procreation and pleasure are all Nature’s way for equipping each life to fulfill its basic expectations.

God has no need for imagination since he is omnipotent and omniscient. Consequently I see Nature as manifestation of divine Wisdom and Power.     In thinking like Nature man exercises imagination but it is imperfect. Thus for me as a Christian, merely fulfilling my own selfish needs need break its hold and think beyond logic to its ultimate conclusion. Imagination must allow me to see past Nature of this visible universe, the very nature of God his providence and ultimate goodness.

Benny

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